The highway to success is perhaps paved with failure, however strive telling that to James Bay.
In 2015, he loved an nearly frictionless ascent to stardom after being found at an open mic evening in London and signing a file deal off the again of a YouTube video.
Blessed with a bluesy voice and chiselled attractiveness (softened by an omnipresent fedora) he was thrust into the highlight by the Brits Critics’ Alternative award and rapidly racked up thousands and thousands of gross sales for his folksy, romantic singles Let It Go and Hold Back The River.
Debut album Chaos And The Calm entered the charts at primary and earned the Hitchin-born singer Grammy nominations for greatest new artist, greatest rock album and greatest rock track.
“The primary album expertise was insane,” he says. “However it heaped all types of expectation on the subsequent factor I launched.”
The “subsequent factor” was a change of route. For his second album, Electrical Mild, Bay ditched the earnest ballads in favour of sticky R&B grooves (Wild Love) and shimmering new-wave futurism (Pink Lemonade).
The transformation was bodily in addition to musical. The singer chopped off his lengthy locks and saved the hat in its field. In press pictures, he smouldered, and followers began describing him as a intercourse god.
“Improbable, I will take that,” he advised the BBC on the time. “I will take that every one day lengthy.”
However that did not translate to gross sales – Electrical Mild bought one tenth of the overall of Chaos And The Calm within the UK, spending simply seven weeks on the chart.
Trying again, the star is philosophical. The lifetime of a musician is a rollercoaster, he says. “And what will we find out about a rollercoaster? It is very thrilling, however generally it makes you wish to vomit.”
In addition to, he causes, there are millions of artists who would kill for the type of reception his second album had. It was solely by comparability to his debut that it suffered.
“It is like saying, ‘I wish to win the World Cup,’ however in that yr, you solely win the Premier League. You continue to received the Premier League, mate, you understand?
“So if I fell mentally into that type of place at any level on the second file – which once in a while I did – I used to be nonetheless capable of stroll out on stage each evening and play to my followers. And if not the entire room, the primary 10 rows had all of the phrases to the brand new album down.
“So, sure, it is a rollercoaster. Ups and downs. However on the finish of the day, what a pleasure to get to do it.”
Dusting himself off, Bay launched a palate-cleanser EP final yr, which noticed him collaborate with Julia Michaels on the sexually-charged strumfest Peer Stress, and the lachrymose ballad Dangerous.
It kicked off an fulfilling 12 months, the place he acquired to jot down with Brandon Flowers of The Killers and play packed-out stadiums as the principle assist act on Ed Sheeran’s Divide Tour.
He cannot suppress a smile as he remembers 64,000 followers singing Maintain Again The River on the prime of their voices in Portugal’s Benfica Stadium.
“I acquired a sizzling flush of guilt after I noticed a couple of indicators that stated, ‘James, I am right here for you,'” he grins. “However I am certain Ed can cope. He’ll be alright.”
Writing with “younger legend” Flowers was one other life-changing expertise – though he is but to search out out whether or not their collaboration has made the ultimate tracklist of the brand new Killers album.
“I arrived at session with a melody that ended up going into the track,” he remembers. “And he was like, ‘Man that melody: It is just like the Beatles or one thing’.
“That is when my little mind simply went pop.”
‘A tribute to my girlfriend’
All of these experiences fed into Bay’s third album, recorded in Nashville firstly of this yr, shortly earlier than lockdown.
The singer describes it because the “most constructive file I’ve written”, impressed by his long-term girlfriend Lucy Smith, who he is been with for 13 years – ever since they have been youngsters doing their GCSEs in Hertfordshire.
“Our relationship is an important factor in my life,” says Bay. “To have such a rock stable basis at house, you understand, it deserves a little bit of credit score and a spotlight. So in a approach, a number of this music is a tribute to her.”
Though Smith impressed lots of Bay’s earlier songs, he’d by no means written explicitly about their relationship earlier than, out of respect for her privateness.
“I signed up for the celebrity or the general public facet of issues, my girlfriend did not,” he says. “And I am not going to, subsequently, drag all types of element into this public area. However I wish to honour our relationship.”
The primary single, Chew On My Coronary heart, arrived on Friday with a refrain the dimensions of a jumbo jet and one of many yr’s extra unconventional lyrics.
“What would it not really feel like in case you tore me aside?” sings Bay, drenched in echo. “Come on, chew on my coronary heart.“
It is imagined to convey impatience, he says – that feeling of loving somebody a lot you need “an increasing number of and extra” of them: “Form of like, ‘Let’s like maintain one another tight after which maintain one another tighter’.”
The phrase got here to him out of nowhere as he absent-mindedly strummed chords at house final yr.
“I wrote it down, checked out it and went, ‘No matter we do, we’re scripting this track as a result of I am not gonna let a phrase like ‘chew on my coronary heart’slip by means of my fingers,” he laughs. “I would like that on an album sleeve!”
And did the track meet his girlfriend’s approval?
“That is such a uncommon factor, however she bloody liked it,” he says. “And he or she’s normally the one who’s going, ‘Oh, you are still sticking with that melody, are you?’
“So you possibly can think about it means a lot extra to me when her first response is like, ‘Sure!‘”
One other monitor was written after Bay and Smith stumbled throughout their dream home earlier this yr – which then fell by means of on the 11th hour.
The track additionally finds Bay singing “Will you marry me?” however he artfully sidesteps the query of whether or not that is a literal proposal.
“It was a extremely beautiful track to jot down,” he says diplomatically. “And like I say, it very a lot is a tribute.”
The couple have spent the lockdown of their (not dream) home in Islington, the place Bay has been giving guitar classes on Instagram and making an attempt to keep away from London’s parks – though not for well being causes.
“It has been exhausting to navigate all of the inexperienced areas, given how very like a competition they’ve appeared,” he says. “I’ve acquired pangs to wish to go and play festivals. It is that point of yr and I would like to be doing all of that.”
He’ll have to carry hearth till subsequent yr when, judging by the sing-along choruses of his new materials, he would possibly discover a few of his wayward followers have returned… a bit like his hair.
“What I really like now that I am again right here,” he says, indicating his shoulder-length locks, “is all of the feedback that say, ‘Get me the brief hair again!’
“However across the time I ended carrying the hat, there was a major variety of individuals making noise about how a ‘file label had satisfied me’ to chop all my hair off.
“And that is wonderful. It is all incredible drama on this loopy business. However it simply made me snigger to see all these individuals out of the blue going, ‘The place’s the brief hair? I liked that haircut!'”
James Bay’s new single Chew On My Coronary heart is out now.